Virtual Learning Environments #ELTchat Summary 02/11/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Virtual Learning Environments #ELTchat Summary 02/11/2011

This summary was contributed by Phil Longwell @teacherphil on Twitter and is reproduced here with his kind permission from his blog


This is a rough summary of an old #ELTChat, dated 2 November 2011, which I volunteered to write as I (am) currently researching the topic for an upcoming job interview.  It also connects with my MA dissertation topic, which I completed in September 2012, about the kinds of educational technology teachers currently use in their job.   I did not find it easy to make sense of a transcript or to put together a summary of a chat which I was not part of and at a time which pre-dates my knowledge of the existence of #ELTChat. Nonetheless, I present some of the ideas and shared links below, hoping that I haven’t mispresented anyone who took part.  I feature those who lead the chat more than those who simply followed and retweeted if in agreement.

Virtual Learning Environments

The Summary

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According to a Wikipedia, a A virtual learning environment (VLE) is an education system based on the Web that models conventional real-world education by providing equivalent virtual access to classes, class content, tests, homework, grades, assessments, other class tools and perhaps even museums and other external academic resources. It is also a social space where students and teacher can interact through threaded discussions or chat. It typically uses Web 2.0tools for 2-way interaction, and includes a content management system.

Virtual learning environments are the basic component of contemporary distance learning, but can also be integrated with a physical learning environment; this is sometimes referred to as Blended Learning.

As acknowledged during the chat, a virtual learning environment can also include students and teacher ‘meeting’ online through a synchronous web-based application. The students are able to talk with other students and the teacher, as well as collaborate with each other, answer questions, or pose questions. They can use the tools available through the application to virtually raise their hand, send messages, or answer questions on the screen given by the teacher.  Virtual learning can take place synchronously where participants meet in ‘real time’. Teachers conduct live classes in virtual classrooms, for which examples were given during the chat. Students are expected to complete lessons and assignments independently through the system, with the teacher always present. Learning can also be ‘asynchronous’ where each student is effectively learning at his own pace, away from the obvious presence of a teacher, but who still exists in terms of setting up and assessing work.

Using Virtual Learning Environments for ELT

The chat opened, as they often do, with a search for a definition.  What is meant by a Virtual Learning Environment? “Social spaces where educational interactions occur” offered @BrunoELT.  “Any space that has been set up to foster learning but without the need of the physical presence of the teacher” offered @hoprea. “VLEs aren’t massively social though,” countered @harrisonmike, as they are not open to all, unlike the medium of this chat, Twitter, which potentially has a limitless reach. @SueAnnan wondered if Wikis could be considered VLEs to which @hoprea opined that it depended on the way they are set up.  @Harrisonmike believed educational wikis must be included.  @SueAnnanand @barbaska wanted to know how people were using them to teach in the classroom.  It was suggested, by@ShaunWilden and others, that VLEs were an extension of, or possibly instead of, the classrom.  They can vary from very simple to complex ones, “as long as learning is taking place then it’s a VLE,” said @hoprea@Mollybob commented that they are “not so much for teaching as learning, evidence of learning and places for interaction”.  Meanwhile,@fceblog guessed “VLEs are places where a teacher’s presence (could) be felt.”  @ShaunWilden found this interesting and later agreed that ‘teacher presence’ is important.  A couple of participants also later queried whether the teacher ‘has to’ be ‘seen’, which was taken to mean their ‘presence’ was noticeable. @PatrickAndrews commented that a teacher/tutor has an important role in moderating (what goes on), while @ShaunWilden replied that it was not just moderating, but also “coaxing, motivating and even assessing.” @Barbsaka later summarised the approach as “not so much what you use, but how you use it,” which many retweeted.  @Mollybob later added that “a VLE is evidence of interaction that has taken place, while the learning focus is on the interaction/behaviour it affords.”

A number were at pains to point out that some things we might think of as being VLEs, such as Elluminate, WizIQ and Adobe Connect were better described as synchronous virtual classrooms. Some wanted to distinguish between VLEs and Learning Management Systems. @teflgeek wondered if the latter is administrative, whereas a VLE has pedagogic value.  Examples of LMS included Blackboard and Moodle, which @seburnt and @harrisonmike were ‘forced to use’ respectively.

Examples given at the top included Moodle, Edmodo and Blackboard.   Fronter was also put forward by @ShaunWilden, who later commented that “simple shared space(s) for speaking courses were some of the best examples he had seen, giving students excellent task practice and recording all through the VLE”.  First Class was also mentioned, although it appeared to be on the wane for some reason.  Second Life and Open Sim were referred to as being VLEs as well. Blackboard, thought, @seburt, had weak functionality.   @hoprea suggested Skype could “become a VLE” and@marcego03 said she had already used it as one, while @jobethsteel claimed it was as easy to use Skype to deliver courses as other methods.  @harrisonmike wondered if Google Docs counted and, by definition of being virtual and allowing for learning, was included, by @hoprea.

Ning was mentioned by @PatrickAndrews and also by @teflgeek, who had been put off by charges. @Yitzha_sarwonohad used Ning previously but in Indonesia found “Facebook the first choice”.  Facebook groups were mentioned by others but there was a general agreement it wasn’t the best method or example, with security being one issue (@teflgeek) and a difficulty organising learning being another (@harrisonmike) referring to FB’s algorithms.  @fcebloglater ruled out FB because “a teacher’s presence is a key difference between a VLE and a PLE (personal learning environment)”.  “Students were treating (FB) as an extension of their social lives and not a VLE,” commented @teflgeek, to which @ShaunWilden countered that it was “a good way to get them in .. build learning on to the social (aspect),” to which @teflgeek replied that he was trying to do this.  @hoprea added that if we agree that learning is social, FB does offer lots of possibilities and can also become a VLE, “if dealt with appropriately”. @Cybraryman1 later shared his effusive opinions on how FB could be used, demonstrating many ways it can be used for educational purposes (link below).   A number of participants, however, felt that Edmodo, which has a similar interface to Facebook, was better for organising students and for facilitating the learning process.  It doesn’t have synchronous tools but still think of it as VLE (@Marisa_C@ShaunWilden), a wonderful tool, even with adults (@marcego03).

@NikPeachey offered Wiggio as his VLE of choice.  It can host content easily and has great communication tools and features, as well as being quick to create. Nik provided a link to a introductory screencast.   He added to the earlier comment that “learning can be just social … but it can be made more efficient by feeding in task and support.”  “Without proper guidance, affordances and scaffolding”, added @hoprea, “it is just chat.” @Marisa_C said she really liked Vyew, which has nice features other VLEs don’t have, such as being able to leave tools on indefinitely, providing a link (below).  She asked @NikPeachey whether Wiggio was free and he stated it was for him, with “better asynchronous features than WizIQ”.

@Hoprea stated further down the chat that all you needed to do was to “add the ‘virtual’ component to any learning environement and there you go!”  This triggered off a comment regarding ALE – ‘Any Learning Environment’.  “Motivation, engagement, ability to work independently are all important in ALE,” suggested @hoprea, which was retweeted several times.

There was correlating chat around the way that VLEs are supported by other tools – such as wikis, blogs etc (@SueAnnan).  The way these other tools are used was apparently questioned as a determiner of whether education/learning takes place.  @Barbsaka  reiterated her comment about how tools are used affected learning.@Teflgeek stated that how you use the available tools can affect the degree to which (education) occurs.@fceblogagreed, adding that VLEs are not about the tool so much as the teacher’s responsibility in them.

Meanwhile, @BrunoELT asked “What does it take for a student to be a successful VLE learner? Is confidence with the medium important? @ShaunWilden added, “Is it different from being a successful learner fullstop?” before adding that “the teacher should make the medium as easy as possible to use.” @NikPeachey offered “motivation and opportunity”, while @teflgeek offered “engagement in the process”. “Patience and lots of practice,” offered @yorksensei .  @hopreaagreed that the teacher needs to offer guidance, just as in the physical world.  Some VLEs get created and not used (@mattledding ).  Training and guidance was deemed important from the outset.  “If no training is given, students will be at a loss with the tool,” said @hoperea. Furthermore, “a tool that could be a nice addition is dismissed out of hand.” @Marisa_C agreed and confirmed ground rules as essential to begin with. @HarrisonMike suggested some basic ICT skills must not be overlooked, while @PatrickAndrews stated that ground rules were important, before adding that students often feel mistakes are more permanent in VLEs than in the classroom.  @teflgeek admitted that his learning curve was steeper on some VLEs than his learners before adding that his VLE rules are similar to his classroom rules.@hoprea added that the teacher needs to know the VLE of his choice quite well as they will be involved in giving tech support to others.

Towards the end of the chat, both @mollybob and @PatrickAndrews asked if anyone was familiar with the 5 stage model of e-moderation.  More detail about this can be found here .  It is quite influential and often cited. @ShaunWilden stated in the affirmative, saying that he “runs courses on e-moderation, so it comes up a lot.” as well as doing a talk at IATEFL on the role of the teacher in a VLE context – see link below.

Gilly Salmond’s 5 stages of e-moderation

The chat continued for a while on the theme of moderation.  Unless familiar with the VLE being used, a teacher may struggle to create enough motivation on the part of the learner.  For some, motivation, engagement and the ability to work independently – those features already described for ‘Any Learning Environment’ were key points.  There was some expectation expressed at teachers needing training rather than being left to get on with using the chosen VLE. “How can you expect teachers to use it … when they don’t even know how to use it themselves?” asked marcego03.  Meanwhile, some expressed reluctance on the part of students to use , for example, discussion boards (@PatrickAndrews ) as this would ‘expose’ them.  Furthermore, if it doesn’t work out, it was suggested that it easier to abandon a website, compared with a (paid-for) coursebook, stated @hoprea, who later concluded that “k nowledge triggers creativity.  The more you learn about a tool, the easier it is for you to find different uses for it.”

The chat carried on for another 30 minutes (12.50 – 1.20), drifting well past the normal hour given over to the chat. If you are interested in what was said then the transcript is still available to read here.

Links provided during the chat:

and more links to the other VLEs/tools mentioned:


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